For many in Orillia, the blue spruce tree that stands tall at the corner of Mississauga and West is known as the Opera House Christmas tree. It is lit every year during the Candlelight Parade, taking place next Friday. But for my family, and many that knew my grandfather, it will always be known as Fred’s Tree.
The Candlelight Parade has become a staple for many families in town and is a great way to get excited for the coming holiday season. The downtown twinkles with thousands of lights and hundreds of kids sing Christmas carols as they walk up Mississauga towards the Opera House. And all together, they stand in awe of the spruce tree and ohh and ahh at the decorations.
My co-worker David Hawke provided me with an unexpected history lesson about that tree when he brought in a copy of the Wednesday Nighter, a publication that has long been out of print. The article was entitled “Fred’s Tree” and is dated May 24, 1972.
In the early 70s, the City would cut down a large tree every year and place it at the then location of City Hall. For years, the Orillia Horticultural Society and residents suggested to City Council that they purchase one tree to be planted but it took my grandfather Fred Noakes to push that suggestion into action. Fred was a local photographer and naturalist and thanks to that letter, the blue spruce was purchased and planted. The tree was three or four tons and stood at more than fifteen feet high when it was planted.
The Wednesday Nighter explained: “No doubt Mr. Noakes would be the first to tell us he didn’t think of the idea, but it’s people like him who care – people like him to take the time to write a letter – that make this world a little richer, or a little happier, in a special kind of way. That’s why, as far as we are concerned, it will always be known as Fred’s Tree”.
It’s now 40 years since the planting of the blue spruce, and it’s now almost as tall as the Opera House and is centerpiece of every Christmas light celebration.
Fred passed away when I was young, so I don’t have many memories of him but his love of nature was passed down to my mother and also onto me. To my surprise, when I tell Conservancy supporters about my family, many knew him. When I started working at The Couchiching Conservancy, I had no idea that in a way I would be following in my grandfather’s footsteps. I know that if Fred was around today, he would be proud of where I am working.
So this Friday, if you attend the Candlelight parade, think of my grandfather and the history of Fred’s tree, and remember this line from the Wednesday Nighter: “It is only a very small thing, but in all probability more people will get pleasure from that tree than thirty thousand political speeches.”
Written by Tanya Clark.